An awe-full story

16 July 2017

It came to me while in the shower this morning (a place where one is showered additionally with oxytocin and the resultant enhanced clarity of awareness). Life, of the human variety, is enhanced in both quality and quantity, by curiosity and the narrative which follows. It is curiosity in its many forms that incorporates purposeful seeking. To seek, is a continuum which extends all the way from a focused pursuit to a more passive narration of the flow of conscious awareness of cognitive and emotional associations. The result is a narrative which chronicles the passing kaleidoscope of conscious bytes - our imagination.

This process is reflected in the brain in a structure referred to as the hippocampus. Originating from the Greek ἱππόκαμπος or seahorse, the word is derived from a combination of hippos – horse and campos – sea monster. There are two hippocampi, left and right, situated deep in both cerebral hemispheres. They each form a reversed ‘C’ depicting the seahorse, facing forwards. The hippocampus is the seat of short-term memory and is connected to the entire cerebral cortex. In this way it records memory, stores it in the cortex and catalogues it for later recall. But here comes the rub – memory is stored in the context of narrative – you would have difficulty in retaining information that was not recorded in a narrative context. Additionally, this entire process is driven by a dopamine feed.

Dopamine is the stuff of engagement, gratification, achievement as well as curiosity. So let’s put that all together: We derive personal gratification from an active curiosity and the achievement of creating a narrative, the stuff of our imagination. Now if we take curiosity a step higher to awe, we are showered with oxytocin – the stuff of empathy, belief and a subjective sense of connection to something much bigger than ourselves.

But it doesn’t end there folks. Through the process of mirror-neuron activity, we resonate with the imagination of others. We lock hippocampi with the the writer or communicator and thereby experience the full octave of cognitive emotion. And in turn we secrete the same configuration of neuro-chemicals as the producer – we flow with the dopamine in a well-formed narrative where curiosity is sustained. And we also flow with the oxytocin when awe, empathy and connectivity is expressed.

Bearing in mind that raised levels of dopamine and oxytocin diminish inflammation and are immune-stimulating, we have the added bonus of enhanced physical wellness. And so without getting too dramatic it could be said that curiosity is life, while a life devoid of curiosity is a a pre-morbid state!

I invite you to share this story with me:

"He was someone that kept very much to himself, but always very pleasant. In fact I would go as far as saying that there was something very calming and inspiring in his demeanour. He would go about his daily activities in an unobtrusive way, politely greeting all who passed by him. I knew that there was something very special about him and this was to play itself out so dramatically one Saturday afternoon. I was feeling particularly down. Things were just not going my way. I was already beginning to question 'what's it all about'. I remember sitting in the park, alone on a bench. I suddenly became aware of someone standing next to me. I looked up and there he was, with that calm, understanding look in his eyes. He beckoned me to walk with him. There were no words spoken. I just went along and followed him. We walked to the far end of the park. There was a steep drop just beyond the edge. And there for the first time I noted some stairs cut into the rock which descended to a small ledge. We walked down the stairs …. And into pure magic! The sun was setting and standing on the ledge we were bathed in pure golden sunlight. He put his arm around my shoulder and smiled. I couldn’t help myself. The tears just welled up …….. "

Were you with me? Did you feel it? We just covered the full octave. I derived a great dopamine and an oxytocin ‘high’ from my original tweaked curiosity and the flow of imagination that followed. I wanted to share it with you, both for the acknowledgement of my creation as well as to inspire your curiosity and imagination to create your own piece of narrated magic.

I guess that’s why we write. We experience personal gratification in the ‘doing’ and in the recognition as well as in the inspiring of each other to contribute our unique imaginations and thereby enrich this space.


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